What Trade Should You Do To Become A Tunneller?

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Tunneller - Perfect Hire

By Daniel Green

Perhaps a better question might be: what qualifications should I have to become a tunneller? With recruitment agencies urgently seeking thousands of skilled construction workers to build the new Western Harbour Tunnel, job boards are flooded with choice roles. The complex nature of modern tunnel construction means a whole gamut of experience is needed, from general labour to machine operators to underwater tradespeople and engineers. Let’s take a more detailed look into what skills this interesting and challenging environment demands. Read on!


‘There are no small parts, only small actors’ is a phrase known to Hollywood. Construction is the same, with labourers remaining the glue that binds a project together. Working on a tier one project like the Western Harbour Tunnel however, requires a workforce with experience. Unfortunately these projects are not the place to start from scratch.

Tunnelling encompasses almost every type of construction there is which means the need for skills in every discipline: civil, waterproofing, fabrication, landscape, even demolition. The more you can do, the more employable you are.


Trades Assistants specialise in one field rather than having general knowledge of all. An electrical T/A will be the right hand of an electrician, a carpentry T/A will be the right hand of a chippy and so on. Tunnel construction requires all trades and therefore all T/A’s.


The complicated nature of constructing an underwater channel to safely move millions of people requires the knowledge of professional tradespeople.


Whether poured in situ or pre-cast, via pump or by agi, straight screed or brushed, you can guarantee the WHT will be made of concrete. If you’re a hungry concreter – now’s the time to make hay. The construction of the WHT will consist of pre-cast concrete tunnel sections that will be manufactured off site. They are rumoured to be more than 100m long apiece, and if they are to envelop six lanes of traffic then they will have an ID of at least 25m! That’s a lot of concrete.


However, concreters can’t make those gorgeous grey slabs without good formworkers. With hours on tap, great pay and years of work – tunnelling is a formworkers dream. Forming up tunnel sections that need precision fitment means teams of formworkers grafting around the clock for months just getting each unit absolutely right.


Not all works consist of constructing the tunnel. There are many ancillaries and systems associated with operating the tunnel that need to be constructed. Offices, control rooms, storage facilities – the list is almost endless. Furthermore there will be miles of hoarding, temporary stairs and temporary toilet & bathroom facilities. The tunnelling sector is looking for good carpenters looking to make their mark.


As an environment totally independent from the world above, modern tunnels need a maze of electrical systems to operate vital functions such as lighting, exhaust fans and control rooms. The cabling alone will takes years to lay, connect and test. Good electricians who can cope with long hours underground will be very sought after indeed.


From end to end, the WHT is 6km in length. At any given moment workers and commuters could be up to 3km from help should things go awry. A modern, reliable telecommunications system needs skilled tradespeople to make it happen. The web of cabling and optical fibre running this beast will need many experts in the fields of data and telecommunications.

Fire Suppression

As with telecommunications and data, fire fighting remains one of the WHT’s top priorities. Modern fire suppression systems in custom applications such as this require years of design, assembly and testing to make sure they cut the mustard. This means plenty of work for skilled and experienced fire plumbers and sprinkler fitters both off-site and in the tunnel itself. If you have expertise in fire suppression then now is the time to apply for the WHT!


Tunnel systems are expected to evacuate thousand of cubic metres of carbon monoxide at a time and there WHT is no different. With an expectation of more than 100k cars every day, mass ventilation remains high on the the to-do list. Heating, Ventilation, Air-conditioning and Cooling plays a vital role in any tunnel project and the WHT expects to create hundreds of jobs in this trade.


At the tunnel’s 27m max depth the water pressure will be 4 bar or 58 psi. That’s 25kg of pressure for every 2.5cm x 2.5cm square. Multiply that by the surface are of a tunnel big enough to accommodate six lanes of traffic and you get the picture. When you think about trying to hold back an ocean of water you’ll know what we mean when we say waterproofers will be in demand.


Modern construction demands a combination of many construction materials, one of the most durable being metal. With large portions of the tunnel needing structural steel, aluminium and stainless, there is plenty of work for top-tier metal fabricators.


A larger focus on civil works for drainage doesn’t mean plumbers won’t be in demand. There are still hundreds of kilometres of plumbing drainage pipe, junctions and supply pipe to be installed. Not to mention the pumps to move it all – including emergency and backup pumps.


Not all design aspects are set in concrete. Aesthetically speaking, bricks are kinder to the eye than a concrete slab. So whilst the bones of the tunnel will be all concrete, there may be roles for bricklayers too. Stay tuned.

Internal Finishers

With more than 100 personnel needed to run the tunnel operation, you can bet your bottom dollar the operations facilities will be second to none. Cabinetmakers, glaziers, tilers, plasterers and painters will be needed to fit out the control and office spaces needed to operate the tunnel. The volume of work won’t be as great as other trades like concreters and electricians but there’s still miles of work to do!

Transport and Lifting

The sheer size of a tunnel construction project means everything must be delivered across the site by truck. Therefore the lifting and transport department needs to be sizeable, well-manned and well-equipped. The installation and commissioning of different aspects also needs personnel with these skills and qualifications.

Truck Drivers, Forklift and Telehandler Operators

There are literally millions of individual parts needed for a project like this and they all need to be delivered to, and then across the site. Loading those trucks are the trained, ticketed professionals in the tele/fork/truck game. Welcome aboard!

Personnel Lifting

Running power across a 6km long tunnel means hundreds of kilometres of HV cabling, which means an equal amount of cable trays. These are installed at a height of more than 5m. Exhaust air removal means miles and miles of ducting, also installed at height. EWP’s, Boom and Scissor Lifts operators play a vital role in the correct installation of these components that ensure both construction workers and commuters remain safe.

Crane Crews

Whilst cranes are usually relegated to construction that builds upwards, they do have their place in tunnel construction. Modular offices for construction staff, vent stacks and general freight movement are just some of the tasks crane crews will need to do. Dogmen, Riggers and Crane Operators are the key personnel components of that.


The gunnery sergeants of the construction world are skilled at liaising between management and the workforce to get things done. Supervisors are needed at every level and in every construction discipline there is.

Managers and Engineers

Leading the project are the Project Managers, Construction Managers and Engineers. With knowledge needed from all disciplines from civil, geo, systems, electrical, mechanical and environmental.

Civil Engineers are clearly needed for the physical construction of the tunnel itself, encompassing general and specific construction, drainage, costing, test results, soil quantification and more.

Geotechnical engineers assess geological factors around construction. As the WHT will be laid on the sea bed, there will be many roles for these engineers who excel in their field. Specialists in ocean floor geology will be very sought after indeed.

Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary field of engineering and engineering management that focuses on how to design, integrate, and manage complex systems such as those found on tunnelling projects. Needless to say the WHT will be looking for systems engineers in spades.

Electrical engineers help create, design and manage electricity and electrical component function. As the major functions of the tunnel will be electrically controlled, engineers in this discipline best expect a phone call.

Mechanical engineers research, design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal sensors and devices, including tools, engines, and machines. The WHT expects major functions to be electrical-over-mechanical, meaning good mech engineers will be in high demand.

Environmental engineers assess the impact on air, water, soil and noise of the projects they helm. The WHT will be built in one of the world’s most beautiful harbours meaning nothing will be left to chance.

In Conclusion

So there you have it. The jobs that the tunnel sector demands. The Western Harbour Tunnel has already begun, now’s the time to strike!

For more information on how to secure a role on the WHT, call Tim on 0414 830 814.

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